Editorial & Opinion

Philippine Fair Trade Manager Assassinated

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Fair trade is all about working for justice, for the poor, the downtrodden, the impoverished and exploited people. It strives to lift them up to a life of dignity and greater opportunity in a non-violent, peaceful way through economic development. Fair Trade is a practical way to respect the rights and dignity of the poorest of the poor and to restore their human dignity. It does this by

providing them with fairly paid jobs, social benefits, just wages and teaching them their human and economic rights. It is a Christian ideal in fact, not an ideological or political one. It is the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan in action as taught by Jesus of Nazareth.

That is how Romeo Capalla wanted to live his life. His brother joined the Catholic priesthood and became a well-liked bishop and served the people. But Romy, as he was fondly called, had his heart among the people. As he walked in the sugar cane fields and among the banana groves, he wondered how could he alleviate poverty in the poverty-stricken island of Panay, an island rich in agricultural products.

As elsewhere in the Philippines all the land is owned by a few rich families with strong political connection. It was of course the great inequality between rich and poor that Pope Francis has roundly called a scandal to humanity when a few own and control more than 70 percent of the national wealth.

Romy was a strong advocate of social justice and he was a pioneer in setting up and managing a Fair Trade marketing project called Panay Fair Trade Center (PFTC). The center helps the poor farmers and unemployed people organize small industries that export to the world shops that sell fairly traded products from around the world. They export banana chips and muscovado sugar.

Fair Trade in the Philippines is more than buying and selling products at fair prices. It is also working for human rights, helping the prisoners, the victims of sexual abuse, slavery, exploitation and land grabbing. It is about speaking out for justice and about human rights violations by dark forces.

Romy’s advocacy and his skill in organizing economic groups caught the eye of the anti-insurgency military and police. These are elite units of the Philippine police and army. They have not defeated and wiped out the New People’s Army since the communist insurgency began in 1972 and they are always in need of a success story, a victory to justify their continued access to funds, weapons and ammunition. Some of the rogue officers can get “victories” and promotions by falsely accusing and arresting anybody without evidence as suspects and leaders of the rebel groups.

Romeo Robles Capalla, 65, was a soft target. He was a kind person, an inspiring speaker at international conferences and Fair Trade exhibitions in EU countries. A military unit arrested him in 2005 and charged him with subversion of being a rebel leader and taking part in the burning of a mining equipment but the court acquitted him. Unable to claim a “victory,” they allegedly decided to kill him.

Last 15 March, they shot him down in front of his 90 year old mother -in-law in a bloody hail of bullets as evening fell near the Oton market. The evil deed was done meters away from the municipal hall and police station in the small town of Oton, 15 kilometers from the capital Iloilo City.

Romy is the 7th victim of such précised, military style executions this year. There are 169 documented victims killed in the same way in recent years: a pastor, priests, peasants, social workers and indigenous peoples protesting the land-grabbing of their ancestral domain. None of them were rebels shot like soldiers in a firefight. Most were killed by cowardly assassins riding in tandem on a motorbike as happened to Romy.

Why not confront the real rebels on the field of combat, one might ask? Catching the real rebels is a tough dangerous job and calls for courageous and brave soldiers to do that. It seems the soft targets are all the counterinsurgency unit can get. They get this “success” by branding human rights activists and social workers as subversive and accusing them of being communist sympathizers. We pray the assassins and their masters will be brought to justice.

This being the Lenten season, it’s appropriate to reflect on the frame up and false accusation hurled against Jesus Of Nazareth. He was tortured and given a death penalty for his mission to bring about a new “Kingdom” of justice, love equality, sharing of land and property, service to the poor and repentance and forgiveness.

It was a holistic spiritual, social change and human rights activism all in one beautiful mission based on truth, justice and faith in a loving God. You could say, his radical challenge to the society, the elders and religious authorities brought about his arrest, torture, condemnation and death. Many of his true followers suffer the same.



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